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'Hope people will now remember me for the heptathlon gold than my toes'

September 01, 2018 20:58 IST

'I have had a long battle with injuries and these need to be fixed immediately. There's no real big event next year. I have plenty of time before Tokyo.'

Swapna Barman

IMAGE: India's Swapna Barman celebrates after winning the 800 metres run in heptathlon at the Asian Games. Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters

Swapna Barman's claim to fame before landing in Jakarta was as the athlete with 12 toes.

Now the 21-year-old will return home with a new identity after winning India's first Asian Games gold medal in the heptathlon.

 

The extra width of Barman's feet, each containing six toes, and her struggle to find suitable footwear, have often impacted the performance of the athlete who finished fifth on her Asian Games debut in Incheon four years ago.

Compounding her problems at the ongoing Games was a throbbing toothache and Barman, her stocky frame already ravaged by ankle, knee and back injuries over the last year, competed with a taped up jaw at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.

Her march to victory completed with a personal best score of 6,026 points, she now hopes the focus will shift from her unusual feet to her breakthrough performance.

"I hope so," Barman, her jaw still taped, said in an interview outside the GBK Stadium on Thursday.

"After all, nobody from India won a heptathlon gold at the Asian Games before. I hope people will now remember me more for winning the gold than for my toes. It's like a new identity for me."

Swapna Barman

IMAGE: Indian heptathlete Swapna Barman prepares to wear her track shoes before a practice session. Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

The transformation did not come on a platter, explained her coach, Subhas Sarkar.

"She had to work really hard to come this far," he said. "She had to overcome massive odds -- be it her frame, feet or the spate of injuries. In the end the hard work paid off."

For Barman, the priority now is to heal her body with an eye on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"This is the most important thing for me now," she said.

"I have had a long battle with injuries and these need to be fixed immediately. There's no real big event next year. I have plenty of time before Tokyo."

Once she rests and recovers, Barman plans to target the Indian record of 6,211 points, set by J J Shobha 14 years ago.

"I felt I was below par in certain events but still posted my personal best.

"I was once punished for a lane infringement in Doha. That still plays on my mind. That's why I did not go flat out in 200 metres.

"I'll go for a new National record. There is room for improvement in all seven events. I can be better, particularly at 200 metres, shot put, high jump and 800 metres."

Barman's pursuit has kept her away from her family for quite some time; her father was paralysed in 2013 and her mother used to work at a tea garden.

"I have not been home for nearly a year. I want to go home. It's been really long."

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